From: "Montreal History and Gazeteer to the year 1892"
By Rev. J. Douglas Borthwick, John Lovell & Son, Montreal 1892
"This was the disgraceful invasion by a body of men, called Fenians, of Canada contrary to all international law. For some time during the early part of the year 1866 the attention of the authorities had been directed towards the movements of an organization existing principally in the United States, and known as the " Fenian Brotherhood," whose design was the liberation of Ireland from British rule. At its organization, and for a considerable time afterwards, little attention was paid to threats made by its leaders, but when they proceeded so far as to threaten the peace and safety of the country, the authorities made preparation whereby they might be able to repel an attack made.
A short account of the proceedings
of June, when Pigeon Hill was first brought prominently
When it was known throughought Montreal and district that the Fenians were actually attempting to invade Canada, the utmost indignation prevailed. When the British troops arrived at St. Armand's Station between eleven and twelve o'clock of the 9th June, they found two wagons which arrived from Pigeon Hill with five Fenian prisoners, who had been captured that morning by different parties. "These," writes one present, "were little scamps such as one sees about the streets of all great cities. One was a tolerably stout, resolute looking fellow; another, a mild looking young man much better dressed than the rest."
These men were left in the custody of the St. Armand's volunteers, and the column of attack on the Fenians at Pigeon Hill started at two p.m. The Granby and Waterloo volunteers, commanded by Captain Millard, formed the advance guard, being followed by two twelve pounder Armstrong guns of Captain Balfour's Battery, Royal Artillery, then stationed in Hochelaga, accompanied with their regular quota of artillery guns, commanded by Captain Phipps, R.A. These were followed by two companies of the Rifle Brigade under Major Nixon, who commanded the whole column, also two companies of the 25th Regiment, then stationed, as well as the Rifle Brigade, in Montreal. Another company of the 25th brought up the rear and formed the rear guard. Between the main body and rear guard, the supply wagon and a farmer's wagon, carrying the surgeon's apparatus and medical comforts, were placed.
The officers and men were in the highest spirits, only Fearing lest the redoubtable Fenians should seek shelter too promptly in the United States, the "lines" being only half mile from their camp. The day was very fine, the sun was shining brightly, yet tempered by a cool breeze. This made the roads dry and the marching pleasant. One thing regarding this march must not be passed over. Although several soldiers of the Line and Rifles were knocked up with the march and obligedto fall out, yet such was the pluck and training of our volunteers, and they were the advanced guard and in front of the strong Artillery horses of Captain Balfour's Battery, not one single man evinced the least fatigue, but kept straight ahead. A short halt was made at a place called Holt's Corners and another prisoner was brought in from the south road, having been captured by a farmer, who, with his son and hired man, had been reconnoitering the enemy. The Fenian was mounted on a handsome horse, and was rather of a gentlemanly and refined appearance. He was speedily dismounted, being succeeded in the saddle by Captain Hallowes of the 25th Regiment. and the Fenian was conducted to the rear in charge of a guard from that Regiment. Another prisoner was soon met, squatted in a single wagon between the feet of two farmers of Stanbridge, who had captured him. Just before the column reached pigeon Hill there was the cry " Incline to the right " and that splendid body of horsemen "The Guides," under Captain D. Lorn McDougall, dashed past in single file and took their place in front. They had no opportunity that day and more is the pity to " flesh their maiden swords " upon any large body of Fenians. But they rode round by the Cook's Corner's Road, and at a later period of the day cut off the retreat of some who would have escaped and took two of the miserable scoundrels prisoners. If the Fenians had a good sight of them, and they had from their position, they must have felt inclined to keep out of their way. In turning to the right at the tavern at Pigeon Hill, the whole column descended the hill on the road leading directly to the lines, the Artillery taking the lead. The guns were placed in position on a high point overlooking the whole valley in the direction of the woods and about half a mile from the lines. The company of the 25th remained with the guns, and the remainder of the Infantry in two lines with the Rifles thrown out in front as skirmishers descende into the valley. The last red coat disappeared among the trees, and presently a single rifle shot was heard echoing loudly enough through the woods, two more followed, then a dripping fire of musketry and all was silent.
At the first report every one sprang to his feet. The gunners placed themselves by their pieces, and the officers of Artillery prepared to point them upon any body of the enemy that might break cover. The disappointment was very great when the firing ceased. Presently the red coats emerged from the woods, matched across a small clearing and disappeared, the woods beyond. After waiting some time longer, and the sun beginning to approach the western horizon, the horses were put to the guns and wagons, and preparations were made for returning to St. Armand. One company of the 25th rejoined their comrades on the hill. The rest of the force made their way by the Cook's Corner's Road back to Pigeon Hill with the exception of one company of the Rifles, which was detached towards Frelighsburg The rest of the force reached St. Armand's Station between nine and ten o'clock at night.
In the early part of 1868 the mutterings of a new Fenian excitement were again heard on our borders, and after an interval of nearly two years of peace and quiet, we were once more threatened by an invasion. As in the previous case, this report was the result of the unfriendly feelings existing between the United States and England. But, fortunately for Canada, the resources of the "Brotherhood" were not sufficient to enable them to carry out their design; but while the invasion of the country was abandoned, still the diabolical spirit which animated many of its partisans made good its foothold in the country, and, as in other places throughout the world, those who opposed the mad scheme were singled out as victims, and a more distinguished victim could not have been chosen than the Hon. Thomas d'Arcy McGee, a represenative of the City of Montreal in the Dominion Parliament, who was foully assassinated on the morning of April 7th, 1868, while retuming from the Parliament Buildings to his lodgings in Ottawa. The funeral which took place on Monday, 13th, will be long remembered. The streets were covered with mourning flags and festoons of black, giving the scene a striking and funereal aspect and those streets through which the procession was to pass were lined on either side by soldiers, regulars and volunteers.
On Friday, tile 8th of October, 1869, Prince Arthur, third son of Her Most Gracious Majesty, arrived in Montreal to join the P.C.O. Riffes, here stationed, he holding a lieutenant's commission in that splendid regiment.
His Excellency the Governor-General, having left Canada for England, Sir John Michel was sworn in at Montreal as Administrator of the Goveinment in the absence of the Governor-General. Sir John took up his residence in the city, and during his administration the Executive Council met here twice in each month for the transaction of public business.
Comming now to what is called tile second Feninn Invasion, and it seems the result of the first had no effect on these men. About April 10th, 1870, an intimation was received by the Dominion Govemment from the British Minister at Washington to the effect, that the American Executive had received warning of an intended Fenian raid into Canada along the frontier from Port Huron to St. Alban's. Later on, informarion was received that the intended raid would not be made at the place indicated, but that all the Fenians were concentrating at Malone, a town on the north side of the State of New York and near to the frontier, and that they intended making a raid on St. Armand and Frelighsburg. In consequence of this information several frontier corps were ordered to hold themselves in readiness for immediate action, and by the end of the week all the battalions so ordered were under arms. From Montreal on the Monday following this information Muir's troop of Cavalry was ordered, and they arrived at Huntingdon on Tuesday afternoon. Col. Chamberlain had already gone to Missisquoi to bring out the force under his command, whilst a large force was collected of the Volunteers in Montreal. During the following week the streets of, Montreal appeared gay with marching troops and sounds of martial music from the many bands which were moving to and from the execution of their military duties. Rumors were plentiful, but not until H. M G. Majesty's Birthday following were the rumors turned into fact. The celebration of the Queen's Birthday was interrupted by a call for the Regulars and Volunteers to move to the front. Word was received that the Fenians were massing both at St. Alban's and Malone, as well as in Upper Canada on the Niagara frontier, and also at the Town of Prescott. St. Johns and Frelighsburg were at once well garrisoned by troops from Montreal, Fort Wellington at Prescott was garrisoned by the Ottawa Volunteers, and every thing was done to protect the frontier of Canada from the lawless rabble.
The day after the Queen's Birthday, viz., 25th May, a band of over two hundred of hese misguided men, under tile command of one O'Neil, crossed the frontier and entered Canada, trying to effect a lodgment at Pigeon Hill. Many hundreds of Fenians were in and about St. Alban's during this time. Also there were large bodies of them arrived at Malone and elsewhere. The proclamation of General Grant, the President of the United States, rather disconcerted their plans, whilst on the morning of the 26th, a finely equipped little army of itself in the shape of the Prince Consort's Own Rifles (Regulars) of seven hundred strong, under command of Lord A. Russell, and accompanied by Prince Arthur, went by special train to St. Johns, where the Volunteers had preceded them. General Lindsay assumed command of the whole. Col. Smith with a detachment of the 60th arrived at Stanbridge, and left early next morning with Col. Chamberlain's Corps for Cook's Corners, the old Fenian camping ground. When they arrived there, they found that the Homeguard was already on the spot, recruited only the day before by Col. Westover, and a few other loyal and spirited farmers and gentlemen living on the borders, who took upon themselves the duty of defending their hearths and homes, waiting the arrival of regular troops.
General Lindsay disposed of all his forces at the best available spots, but it was only here that any fighting took place, as all the other bands of Fenians fled whenever they were opposed-to the regular troops of Her Majesty or the Canadian Volunteers. All along the frontier at Cook's Comers, the Fenians had scattered their arms and ammunition in their hurry, and it is supposed on good authority that over a thousand men were at this time either on Canadian soil or near it in the frontier.
Disregarding the proclamation of the Governmerlt of the United States, and the Marshal then there requesting him not to proceed, O'Neil with Donnelly, his second in command, crossed the lines into Canada. The Homeguards were posted on the hill side, about five hundred yards from the American line. On the Queen's Birthday and on the following morning they were joined by a portion of the forces under Col. Smith and Lieut.-Col. Chamberlain. The whole number of the Canadian troops did not here exceed seventy men, though ample reserves were in waiting at points near at hand. About noon the Fenians moved onwards, and actually in a body crossed the lines. The Burlington (Vt.) Company of Fenians dashed down to form a skirmish line across a little brook that flowed between the combatants. The moment they crossed, the Homeguards and others opened fire, one man was instantly killed and others wounded. The Fenians wavered and fell bad;. Another company tried and too receded, and it so resulted that, from the sharp firing of the Canadians, no Fenian dared to approach the bridge, and all fell into confusion and a stampede. In the afternoon they again attempted to cross, losing one mall killed and several wounded, though the actual number could never be ascertained. O'Neil and the other leaders were then taken prisoners by the U. S. Marshal and driven off to Sr. Alban's Gaol. Thus collapsed the Fenian raid of 1870 at Cook's Corners."
Return to Roll of Honour page
Back to the homepage